When interacting with early career researchers (ECRs) in person at AGU’s annual meetings or virtually through webinars and emails, we frequently hear that they would like more opportunities to get involved in the peer review process beyond publishing their papers. They would like to review papers, but they don’t often get invited or they don’t know if they are qualified to review on their own. They are looking for support and resources to get started. Equally we hear from our journal editors and reviewer pool that they are overburdened; receiving review requests sometimes daily and not being able to keep up with the demand.
Looking at AGU Publications’ demographic data, we also know that our reviewer pool doesn’t reflect the full diversity of our authors and the wider community of geoscientists that we serve, hence the need to diversify the reviewer pool. We take these issues to heart and have launched several programs to help address them. Our Co-reviewer Program gives ECRs a formal way to gain experience reviewing as well as recognition for their work; our mentoring programs provides them in-depth experiences with the publishing process and access to our journal editors and publishing staff; and our webinars and resources are available for everyone at every experience level. These programs have been successful in their goals of helping our future reviewers and we hope to continue their growth and expand our programming in the future.
AGU Publications’ Co-reviewer Program
Our Co-reviewer Program started as a way to formalize and enhance a practice we knew was already occurring. Co-review is when a junior researcher (such as a graduate student, post doc, or research assistant) is invited to complete a review with a senior researcher (often their advisor or supervisor). Each reviewer reads the paper and together they write the review and come up with a recommendation. This has long been a way to train ECRs and help them learn how to review on their own. Co-reviewing is a longstanding practice within AGU’s journals (and many other journals outside of AGU), but it was not formally tracked in our submission and peer review system or by our journals; nor was the co-reviewer acknowledged or named, as the practice was done outside of the system.
In late 2021, we began an official Co-reviewer Program for AGU’s journals, embedding the functionality directly within our submission and peer review system (GEMS). When reviewers are invited to review a submission, they can contact their co-reviewer and add them to the reviewer form when submitting their review. Our goals in formalizing the co-reviewing practice in our journals (via the embedded functionality) are threefold:
- Encourage more engagement from early career reviewers and providing them guidance (through the mentorship of the more senior reviewer)
- Recognize them for their contributions (more on this below)
- Expand our reviewer pool to increase age group diversity and geographic diversity
AGU is committed to inclusive and equitable scientific publishing. One of our diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) goals is to strengthen our editorial boards and review pool through a diversity of perspectives. At AGU journals (and many others), the decision of who gets invited to review is in the hands of the editors and associate editors.
The Co-reviewer Program helps expand the network of who gets invited to review, as now the reviewers themselves can also invite and include a co-reviewer. Since the beginning of the program in 2021, over 1,500 co-reviews have been submitted. This information was originally collected via the review form in our submission system, added manually to reviewer database periodically, and included in our annual reviewer thank you editorials for each journal.
After the first year of the program, we surveyed participates to determine if it was meeting expectations and if there were suggestions on how we might improve the program. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive with co-reviewers, senior reviewers, and editors finding it a productive experience and eager for more opportunities. The areas for improvement were in recognition of co-reviewers and incorporating co-reviewers into the general reviewer pool.
In response to the survey and email feedback, we improved the system functionality and tracking, allowing us to better incorporate reviewers. This latest update automatically adds the co-reviewers to the system and provides them with the same thank you email as the reviewer who included them. These updates should improve our efforts to recognize and track co-reviewers.
While this program has been successful and well received, we know there are limitations to what co-review can accomplish and who can benefit from this program. As shown in the charts, the co-reviewer program has helped modestly increase the geographic diversity of our reviewer pool (Figures 1 and 2) and significantly increased the share of reviewers in the youngest age group (Figure 3). We were encouraged to see this positive impact so early in the program, while at the same time recognizing that we still have ways to go. The design of the Co-reviewer Program means that ECRs can only participate if they are invited by the more senior researcher. We hope by promoting this program that we will see more co-review invitations over time.
We are continuously exploring ideas to engage ECRs who might not have someone who will invite them to do collaborative review, including those who are from regions and countries where we have less representation in our general reviewer pool. Our newest update of improving recognition of the co-reviewers and adding them to our reviewer database is a great start, but from the feedback we received it was clear that there is a need for more in depth training that can help promote the co-reviewer to independent reviewers.
Supporting ECRs with Training and Resources
AGU Publications already offers author-focused various training and educational materials, ranging from workshops at our annual meeting, editor-led workshops at conferences, recorded webinars and virtual events, and written how-to guidelines. This year, we expanded these efforts to prioritize ECRs, providing them with training and mentoring to support their publishing and peer review aspirations.
In July 2023, the AGU publications department hosted a Publishing 101 Mentoring365 Circle focused on the basics of scholarly publishing, including the peer-review process. We had great engagement with the 64 mentees, many who were preparing their first journal submission. After the 4-week course was complete, participants had a Zoom Q&A session with Editor in Chief Dr. Lisa Beal from AGU’s JGR: Oceans. The session gave participants the opportunity to directly ask an editor for writing and publishing advice; and for us to learn from them. In the future, we hope to create more Mentoring365 Circles specifically focused on peer-review.
In August 2023, we hosted an ECR-focused webinar on the basics of peer-review, including information on how to write a constructive and respectful review, our ethics policies, and how to get started as a first-time reviewer. The live webinar training gave attendees an opportunity to both learn and ask questions directly to an experienced Associate Editor, Dr. Kaustubh Thirumalai, who currently serves on the editorial board for AGU’s Paleoceanography & Paleoclimatology. A recording of the webinar and its corresponding slides are now provided as an evergreen resource on our website and can be accessed at any time. In the slides, we also included a list of free online courses and training materials that anyone can use to strengthen their reviewing skills and get a closer look at how peer-review works.
Additionally, as part of our DEIA goals of instilling a more inclusive and equitable peer review process, we have also created reviewer guidance on writing more respectful and constructive peer review comments via our Reviewer Tone Table. Using the Tone Table as a guide (it’s included in our Reviewer Instructions and our policy page), reviewers are asked to consider how the language and tone they use in their review comments is perceived by authors and avoid biases whenever possible. Read more about reviewer tone in this Editor’s Vox. Finally, our Review criteria are also posted online for reviewers to access.
By making these materials publicly available and free to access, we hope that it will engage more ECRs with the peer review and publishing process and provide them with the tools they need to succeed.
We have been encouraged by the positive feedback and initial results we’ve received with our recent efforts to engage and support early career reviewers. We will continue to improve our Co-reviewing Program, create new training resources and more opportunities to mentor and directly engage with ECRs on this topic.
Our volunteer reviewers contribute their time, insight, and knowledge, and are a big part of AGU’s longstanding success of publishing high-quality science to advance the Earth and space sciences. Thank you to our reviewers and we look forward to partnering with our communities to further nurture the next generation of reviewers!
—Sarah Dedej (email@example.com; 0000-0003-3952-4250); Meghan Ramil (0009-0002-7190-7905); Sophie Hanson (0009-0003-6021-8466); and Mia Ricci (0000-0002-8789-0565), Publications Department, American Geophysical Union